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House of Commons Hansard #130 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was representation.

Topics

Point of Order

September 30th, 2003 / 10 a.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria LiberalMinister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, yesterday in the House, the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier asked a question and I promised to provide an answer as soon as possible.

In fact, I have reread the text of the question carefully. It asked the government whether an RCMP investigation was being carried out. As we all know, the government does not comment on whether or not RCMP investigations are being carried out. I cannot therefore provide any additional information, because we do not, of course, comment on whether or not investigations of this kind are under way.

Point of Order

10 a.m.

The Speaker

I am sure the House appreciates the intervention of the hon. government House leader.

Privilege

10 a.m.

The Speaker

I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Ancaster--Dundas--Flamborough--Aldershot on September 15, 2003, concerning remarks by a judge which have since been quoted by other judges and which he regards as contemptuous of this House.

Let me start by thanking the hon. member for Ancaster--Dundas--Flamborough--Aldershot for raising this important issue, as well as the hon. member for West Vancouver--Sunshine Coast and the hon. member for Mississauga South for their interventions.

The hon. member for Ancaster--Dundas--Flamborough--Aldershot stated that a remark made by Mr. Justice Iacobucci in his 1998 ruling on the case of Vriend v. Alberta, which has since been cited by two other judges, infringes on the supremacy of Parliament and is contemptuous.

Mr. Justice Iacobucci was quoted on page 7342 of Debates of the House of Commons of September 15, 2003 as follows:

In my opinion, groups that have historically been the target of discrimination cannot be expected to wait patiently for the protection of their human dignity and equal rights while governments move toward reform one step at a time. If the infringement of the rights and freedoms of these groups is permitted to persist while governments fail to pursue equality diligently, then the guarantees of the Charter will be reduced to little more than empty words.

The hon. member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot asserted that, by his reference to “governments”, the judge was actually referring to Parliament. However, as I read them, the judicial comments of which the hon. member complains suggest that the courts should not wait for the government or Parliament to introduce legal reforms as this can take too long or be incomplete in the end result.

Seen in this light, in my view, the judge's comments would seem to focus on the parliamentary process rather than on Parliament itself. To be sure, the comments are critical of the process where it may be slow to provide remedies in respect of legal rights, but this is the sort of comment any Canadian might make and one that the judge might have considered appropriate given the facts of the case before him. Cases may occur where comments made by a judge are so egregious as to require your Speaker's comment but it does not appear to me that this is such an instance.

In this case, in the context of the privileges of the House, where the dignity of this parliamentary chamber may be offended in the minds of some hon. members, my task is to weigh the character of the judicial comments against the freedom that must be allowed to a court, and to this chamber, to explain its actions as it sees fit. In my view, there is no animus against the House or its dignity in the remarks of which the hon. member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot complains.

A regime of mutual respect ought to govern the relationship between the courts and the House. Each must be free to discharge its responsibilities without criticism from the other. In this case, the observations complained of by the hon. member do not, in my view, amount to a contempt of the House.

Accordingly, I do not find a prima facie breach of privilege in this case.

Office of the Privacy Commissioner

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

I have the honour to lay upon the table, pursuant to subsection 8(2) of the Auditor General Act, a special report on the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)( g ), this report is deemed to have been permanently referred to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Canadian Alliance Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is with honour that I present petitions with the signatures of 10,679 Canadians who are asking for Parliament to support Private Member's Motion No. 83.

Motion No. 83 asks the health committee to examine whether abortions are medically necessary as defined by the Canada Health Act and to compare the health risks for women undergoing abortions to those for women who carry their babies to full term. I would like to thank the 10,679 Canadians who signed the petitions. As members will see, the number of petitions is quite large and I submit them.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Halifax West Nova Scotia

Liberal

Geoff Regan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Lorne Nystrom NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

moved:

That this House call upon the government to hold a referendum within one year to determine whether Canadians wish to replace the current electoral system with a system of proportional representation and, if so, to appoint a commission to consult Canadians on the preferred model of proportional representation and the process of implementation, with an implementation date no later than July 1, 2006.

Mr. Speaker,the debate today in the House is on the idea of appointing a parliamentary committee or commission to study the various methods of proportional representation and then to put the idea to the Canadian people in a national referendum, whereby the people themselves choose whether or not they want to have this new system of proportional representation or the status quo.

The vote this afternoon will be an historic vote. The House last voted on the idea of PR in 1923, some 80 years ago. I believe that it is time we had a good look at our voting system.

To me, a fundamental principle of democracy is how we represent the will of the people in our parliamentary institutions. All voters deserve to be represented equally in the Parliament of Canada. What proportional representation does is empower the people so that every vote counts, no vote is wasted and all votes are represented equally here in the House of Commons of Canada.

Our system does not do that. All we have to do is look at the present Parliament. In November 2000 in the federal election campaign, the Liberal Party took barely 41% of the votes and yet has an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons.

The motion looks at the various modes of proportional representation that would be relevant to our country. As I said, this will be the first vote since 1923 on PR. It is about time for us to do this, because our country is suffering from what I call a democratic deficit.

I believe we are literally sleepwalking toward a crisis in democracy in our country. In the last election campaign, about 60% of the people participated. In the campaign before that it was 67%. Years ago, 75%, 80% and more than 80% of people participated in elections.

People are losing faith in the parliamentary system, in the voting system, in terms of it representing their issues in the House of Commons. I believe that it is time to catch up with the rest of the world. Most Canadians are not aware that there are now only three countries in the world with more than eight million people that use the pure first past the post system: Canada, India and the United States of America.

In the United States in the last campaign for president, George W. Bush got 550,000 fewer votes than Al Gore, but who is the President of the United States? It is George W. Bush, not Al Gore.

Those are the kinds of distortions that we have in a first past the post system. Even in the British system, the mother of our parliamentary system, there is now a measure of proportional representation in the Welsh parliament and in the Scottish parliament. All MPs are elected to the European parliament through proportional representation, and there is a commitment from the Prime Minister of Britain to have a referendum on the idea for Westminster itself.

We are one of a few countries in the world that uses a system invented before the telephone, a system that is archaic, a system that does not represent or mirror the voting intention of the people of the country in the Parliament of Canada. In fact, I think a lot of people would be scandalized to realize that most of the majority governments we have had have been elected by a minority of the people.

We have had 16 majority governments since 1921, including today's. This Prime Minister has had three majority governments, all of which were elected by a minority of the people. In fact, of the 16 majority governments, only four had a majority of the people voting for them: Mackenzie King in 1940 and 1949, Diefenbaker in 1958, and then Brian Mulroney, who had almost exactly 50%, about 49.99%, in 1984.

Most majority governments in the country have been elected by a minority of the people. We are one of the few countries in the world left using this archaic system whereby the minority can elect a majority, this country and the United States.

As I have said, Parliament does not mirror how the people vote so it is no wonder that people are giving up and losing faith in the voting system. I was elected in 1968 and I was out of politics after 1993 for four years. Before I lost in 1993, I used to think that the first past the post system was a wonderful system. It treated me very well. It treated all of us very well; that is why we are here. But after four years with the ordinary people and hearing what they had to say, I realized that people in the country are losing faith in the voting system.

When I came back here in 1997, I looked around Parliament and saw a majority government across the way that was elected by 38% of the people. I saw the Reform Party and the Progressive Conservative Party. I looked at the results. They both had 19% of the votes. Then I looked at the seats. There were 60 Reform MPs and there were 20 Conservative MPs in that corner of the House.

I looked at the number of votes cast in favour of the Bloc Quebecois and the NDP. Each party received about 11% of the vote, which elected 21 New Democrats and, I believe, 43 or 44 Bloc Quebecois members.

We had a Parliament that did not represent or reflect how the people had voted.

There is a real democratic deficit in the Parliament of our country. Even though, in the last federal election, they did not even get 41% of the vote, we now have a government with a strong majority.

The number of votes cast for two parties, the Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats, represented about 21% of Canada's population, but taken together, these two parties have only 25 or 26 seats, which is 8% of the seats in this House.

On the provincial level, we see exactly the same thing. I remember the Quebec election five or six years ago. Jean Charest, the leader of the Liberal Party, received more votes than Lucien Bouchard. But who was elected premier of Quebec? Lucien Bouchard.

At about the same time in British Columbia, there was an election in which the Liberal Party received more votes than my own party, the NDP. But who formed the government? The New Democratic Party, with a majority government. There are distortions everywhere in our electoral system.

However, under proportional representation, if a party were to receive 20% of the votes, the party would receive 20% of the seats in the legislature or in Parliament.

Yesterday, there was an election in Prince Edward Island. The Liberal Party—the party of the leader of the federal government sitting opposite—received some 43% or 44% of the votes, which translates into less than 15% of the seats in the Prince Edward Island Legislative Assembly.

The distortions are all over the place.

I ask members of the House to look at the reasons for proportional representation and why countries around the world have adopted a system of PR. First, the question of fairness, where every vote counts and every vote counts equally regardless of where one lives in the country.

Today that does not happen. One would think almost all the people in Ontario are Liberals because they have almost all the seats in Ontario and yet they receive only half the votes. One would think almost everybody in the west was for the Alliance or the former Reform Party and yet the Alliance or the former Reform Party, with an overwhelming majority of the seats, has less than half the votes in the west and remain a minority party in western Canada.

What is important about proportional representation is that people can vote for their first choice and their first choice would count. How exciting that would be. We would have a different voting configuration across this country. People could actually vote for the Liberal Party in rural western Canada and their vote would count, vote for the NDP in Alberta or Quebec and their vote would count, vote for the Alliance in Newfoundland and their vote would count or vote for the Conservative Party in the province of Quebec and their vote would count. People could vote for their first choice and their vote would count here in the House of Commons.

Systems of proportional representation all over the world have provided women with much greater representation in the parliaments and legislative assemblies and provided minorities with a much greater representation for the simple reason that under proportional representation, if a party does not have a team of candidates that reflects that region, then that party will be judged harshly by the electorate. It is a way of involving more women and more minorities.

I think the Liberal Party should think about the question of national unity. We have, in essence, five regional parties in the House of Commons, including the Liberal Party. If we had proportional representation it would force every party to have a national vision. For every party the vote in Chicoutimi, Quebec would be worth the same as the vote in Bathurst, New Brunswick, Kamsack, Saskatchewan or in Kamloops, British Columbia. It would force all parties to have a national vision about where this country should go.

At the same time it would provide the flexibility where there could be regional parties, because any vision of PR in a big federation, whether it be one based on province by province rights or region by region breakdowns, where we can have a party like the Bloc Quebecois which would have a vision for Quebec and yet do very well in the province of Quebec, or any other province, for a party of a different political ideology or stripe. Those are some of the reasons for proportional representation.

I want to look at some of the arguments made by the government and people across the country who are skeptical of changing our voting system. One of the silliest arguments I have heard ever from the government House leader was when he said last week that we were a federation. I can only think of one federation in the world which has proportional representation and that is Germany. A little bit of research shows we have some 25 federations in the world. Some 14 of those federations have a measure of PR and seven of those are in Europe. Being a federation does not preclude or exclude the possibility of having a system based on proportional representation.

Second, some people say that we will lose the direct election of our local members of Parliament. That does not have to be the case. I believe in a system of PR called a mixed member proportional, where we elect some MPs riding by riding and some MPs on a proportional list. Germany is the best example of a mixed member proportional system where half the MPs are elected riding by riding, so they have their local representative and half of them are on the list. There are 13 countries in the world that have the German system with the mixed member proportional.

People in Germany get two ballots. They vote for their candidate of choice in their own riding, be it Vancouver East or elsewhere, and then they vote for their party of preference. The preferential list determines the proportion of the seats for each party in the House of Commons, the Parliament or the legislative assembly. In the end we get our local member of Parliament but if our party gets 20% of the votes we also get 20% of the seats.

The government House leader would say that the people who are elected proportionally do not represent anyone in particular. That does not have to be the case. They can represent the province or the region from where they are elected. Our present senators are supposed to be representing the province from which they are chosen, so why could these regional MPs not represent the province?

My vision is to have a mixed member proportional done on a province by province basis across the country. The regional MPs from Saskatchewan, B.C. or Newfoundland would represent their province as an entity. The local MP, the member for Vancouver East, would represent her riding, as she does today.

The mixed member proportional system is a system that would provide the best of both worlds: local representation and proportionality. If someone received only 5% or 10% of the votes, his or her party would have 5% or 10% of the MPs rather than no MPs. That is why this system is used in almost every country around the world.

Some people say that it will be unstable and that there will be nothing but minority governments. What is stable about our system today where with 37% or 38% of the votes there is a majority government and 63% of the people who voted for opposition parties are in the minority? Does that create stability?

I have been around this place for a while. I have seen minority governments and I have seen them work well. I remember in 1972-74 when Pierre Trudeau had a minority Parliament and it worked well. There was a working relationship at that time between the Trudeau government and the New Democratic Party.

Before I arrived here in the 1960s, Pearson, one of our best prime ministers, never had a majority government. Lester Pearson, who was prime minister from 1963 to 1968, and was one of the best prime ministers we ever had, ran one of the most productive Parliaments we ever had. Minority governments do work well. They are more representative and reflective of the people.

I know this may lead to a radical idea and may send shivers through the government House leader's body. We may end up having what is called a coalition government. I see he is already shaking, shivering and quivering. I know it is radical in our country but coalition governments exist all over the world. There is one today in Saskatchewan which is doing very well. It is a coalition government with a majority of NDP members and a minority of Liberals. That government has governed now for four years.

If that is the way people vote, then that is the way people vote. We would then have a Parliament that would reflect the voting intentions of the people.

People may also say that it may not be as democratic, that the leaders would have too much say and that the party hierarchy would choose the candidates on the lists. Any system of PR would never have my support unless it included an open and democratic election of candidates by all parties on the preferential list. We could do that through a big convention, through a primary or through a one member one vote process. It could be done in many ways but it would have to be open, democratic, accessible and visible for each and every Canadian.

Now we hear the argument: Why should we not try it at the provincial level? My answer for the minister across the way is that we should show some leadership in the House of Commons. Some of the provinces are showing leadership.

In his throne speech Premier Jean Charest said that there would be a measure of PR in the Quebec national assembly in the election after the next. British Columbia and Prince Edward Island are studying the issue. The leader of the Liberal Party in Ontario, Dalton McGuinty, has said that there will be a chance for the voters of Ontario to make a decision on changing the voting system if he becomes the premier of that province. He has told voters that they will decide how elections will work. He said:

The time has come for a full, open public debate on voting reform. When almost half of the public does not see the point in heading to the polls, we have already had a non-confidence vote in our democracy.

A number of Liberals and a number of people of all political stripes at the provincial level are now saying that the time has come to change the voting system and that we should allow the people to have a say as to what kind of system they want.

When we look around the world we find that our voting system is very archaic. As I said, we are only one of three large countries that use first past the post. Most countries use a form of proportional representation.

I watched with interest when the Soviet Union fell apart and the political leadership in Russia, the Ukraine, Poland and many other countries in the old Soviet Union were looking for a voting system that would best represent the people of their countries. They looked at our system as well as other systems around the world. The interesting thing was that not one of those countries chose our first past the post system of voting because they felt it was not democratic and would not reflect the voters' intentions in the parliaments of those particular countries.

New democracies, old democracies, New Zealand, and many democracies have switched to a system that has a measure of proportional representation.

What I am excited about is that proportional representation empowers the people. Every vote counts and every vote would be represented in the House of Commons. Many systems have a threshold where a party must receive 3% or 5%, so every vote for a party preference of 3% or 5% is represented. Other countries have systems without a threshold.

These are issues that a parliamentary committee can study and make recommendations on. Those are the things that make the proportional representation system a much better one in terms of empowering and exciting people about the political process.

Finally, we have today a motion before the House that says we should study the various forms of proportional representation that can be relevant to our unique federation. We should propose the model that the committee comes up with to the Canadian people in a national referendum so that people will have a chance to choose between the new model and the status quo, first past the post, as people did in New Zealand.

I ask the government House leader, and government members across the way, what is wrong with letting the people of the country have their say?

If Dalton McGuinty, who is about to be the premier of Ontario, is saying that the people should have a say in a referendum on the democratic deficit and on the voting system, what is wrong in putting the question to the Canadian people at the appropriate time so that they decide what is the best way to reflect their views and represent them in the House of Commons?

This is not a decision for politicians. It is not a decision for a government, particularly a government that represents a minority of the people. It is a decision for the people of Canada to make at the time of a national referendum.

We had a referendum on the Charlottetown accord and we can also have a referendum on the voting system.

I wish to conclude by saying that what we must do is represent the will of the people in this chamber and the way to do it is by changing the voting system in Canada.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to compliment the member for yet again raising this issue for debate. It is important that we debate matters which may not at first blush fit in with our set ways.

Many countries have proportional representation or some form of it. There are many hybrids of this.

With regard to the one that the member is proposing as one that we might want to consider, I looked at it in one of his previous speeches. It is a system whereby there would be candidates in every riding but there would not be as many ridings as there are today. We would probably have 200 ridings in Canada instead of 301 or 307 as the case may be.

That effectively means that all members of Parliament who are elected in a riding would have 50% more constituents than they do today which makes it extremely difficult for them to have that intimacy with constituents in terms of serving their needs.

The second aspect is that the balance of the seats in the House of Commons would be represented by those on lists in the proportion of the votes that they received in the second balloting.

This would create a second class of member of Parliament. Some would be directly elected and have all these constituents to take care of, and others could very well be those who could not get elected on their merit. Quite frankly it raises some concern about whether or not the homogeneity of the House of Commons in terms of the common bond of association would cease to exist.

Could the member comment on those two points?

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Lorne Nystrom NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Mr. Speaker, all the motion says is that we should have a committee or commission study the form of proportional representation that might be most appropriate for our country and have a national referendum. It does not prejudice Parliament by saying we want system A, system B or system C.

I have my preference. My preference is a mixed member proportional system like in Germany or in 13 countries around the world because that system combines both local MPs and proportionality. But that is not part of the motion. We should have a study as to what system would be most appropriate for our country, even though I believe and hope that the German system is probably the one we would most likely accept in Canada, if we do accept proportional representation.

My vision also includes abolishing the unelected Senate and bringing the checks and balances right into the House of Commons by empowering the House, by having stronger and more independent committees, committees to initiate legislation, timetable legislation and so on.

Regarding second class MPs, under the mixed member proportional system, half the MPs would be elected riding by riding and the other half proportionally in order to represent the regions. Yet we vote directly by regions in this country so that we have some elected representatives in Saskatchewan as a whole, British Columbia or New Brunswick. The senators are supposed to represent those regions now.

We have six Saskatchewan senators who are supposed to represent Saskatchewan, but they are not accountable and democratic. The people elected on a PR list would have to face the people again in four years and be elected, be accountable and have democratic scrutiny as to whether or not they should return. In that way we would not have two classes of MPs. Both would be elected and be accountable, both would have constituencies and constituents, and both would have to face the electorate every four years. That system is used in 13 countries around the world.

It does not have to be fifty-fifty. It could be that 60% represent ridings and 40% are elected on the list. These are details that should be studied. That is why I want a parliamentary committee or a parliamentary commission to study the appropriate system of PR for our country. We are one of the few countries in the world that uses an outdated first past the post system.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Canadian Alliance Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I support the hon. member and his party in this initiative that they have undertaken to draw attention to what he described as an archaic system. It is well known across the land. I also support his initiative that would result in a referendum where the people would decide upon what system they want to see.

However, I do have a concern when he talks about fairness. He talked about the fairness of the proposal or the model that he is putting forward that would see some MPs selected as representatives of ridings and others selected from a list. He said, if I heard him correctly, that there could be a convention to actually have the parties put forward a slate of names and then have them elect people at a convention that would ultimately be on the list.

I wonder, given the present party discipline of the various parties and their leaders, what would lead him to believe that the leaders would give up that type of power?

My concern is that we would see a system whereby the parties' proportional lists, that some MPs would be selected from, would be controlled by the parties themselves and by the leaders. I only need to draw attention to the need for free votes in this House of Commons.

Supposedly we just had a free vote. His party was the only party where the leader brought down the heavy hand and said that none of his members were going to be allowed to vote freely to represent their constituents or to represent their own conscience on the issue of redefining traditional marriage. Instead, they would have to vote the party line.

What would lead him to believe that his party and his leader would give up the power to ensure that the people on the proportional list were people that his leader wanted?

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Lorne Nystrom NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would not support any system that did not have an open and democratic selection process for people on the proportional list. Parliament would have to write the rules and draft the legislation to ensure the process was democratic.

It was not long ago in this country when people said that parliamentary leaders would never agree to an election law that would outlaw corporate and union funding. I never thought I would see my party agree to a law that would prohibit us from getting trade union funding for election campaigns, but we did. Things change and people evolve. A democratic system should be in place where candidates are democratically chosen.

It does not have to be just one member-one vote or a convention. We could use the single transferrable ballot. There are many different systems that are democratic, open and transparent. Those conditions would have to be met for me to support it. Ballots must be secret. We should have a system where party leaders do not control the voting process; it must be controlled by the people themselves. I would not support any other system unless it had that component in it. I sincerely mean that in terms of my answer to the member from British Columbia.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle because he has taken the lead, in this Parliament and in other Parliaments, to bring forward this issue of democracy and parliamentary reform and proportional representation. He has been a real champion of that.

In listening to the arguments that he has laid out, it strikes me that the single greatest impediment to bringing forward democracy in PR is the Liberal government. It has huge vested interests in keeping the system as it is and preventing some sort of measure of proportional representation.

I would like the member to talk about how this should also be debated in Canadian communities. We have seen groups like Fair Vote Canada and other organizations. This is a massive campaign outside of Parliament to bring forward PR. Would he comment on that?

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Lorne Nystrom NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Mr. Speaker, the member is absolutely right that the opposition to this idea is in a large extent motivated by what I call political greed. The government across the way has a majority with 40% of the votes. Under PR it would not have a majority. The majority of people have voted for the opposition parties.

Governments that have majorities are not interested in changing the voting system because it works well for them. It worked well for me for many years. That is why politicians who are incumbents are wedded to the system. When they are thrown out of office, the same is true of the NDP, this is not a left-right type of issue. We have the Alliance, the NDP and the Bloc together on this.

I had a press conference once with some of the most right wing members of the Alliance and the leader of the Marxist-Leninists in British Columbia. It is not a left-right issue. It is a question of the who is in and who is out, whether it is the NDP or the Conservatives or the Liberals or whomever. If we get a big majority, we tend to like the system that brought us there. Parties are usually committed to this idea when they are out of office.

I make an appeal to have a referendum. Let the people of this country decide because there is growing interest in the community. There is a national organization called Fair Vote Canada. People want change. They want democracy. They want their will represented in the Parliament of Canada.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria LiberalMinister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the motion put forward by my colleague from the New Democratic Party. Essentially he is asking us to consult Canadians in a referendum on whether to replace our current electoral system with some form of what he refers to as proportional representation.

Specifically, just to get a hold of what he is advocating, he says that within one year we would have a referendum. This would be followed by a commission to consult Canadians on their preferred form of proportional representation and how it should be implemented, and all of this no later than January 1, 2006.

The motion really addresses two issues. The first is the process issue, whether we should call for a referendum on proportional representation. Of course we have not decided whether we want it yet. The second issue is whether we need to replace our present electoral system.

First, it is premature to speak on what kind of process should be used to consult Canadians on voting reform, whether it be by referendum or otherwise, before there has been any kind of informed debate on this issue. We are certainly getting ahead of ourselves a little here.

While the government of Quebec is considering reforming its electoral system, in B.C. a citizen's assembly will examine the B.C. electoral system and may recommend retaining the current voting system or perhaps adopting a new one. The Law Reform Commission of Canada has also been examining the issue of voting reform as part of its study of governance over the last few years, but it will only publish its report in 2004.

Therefore, the discussion has been engaged, and this is quite proper, but there is ongoing debate about our institution. Some will say that it is healthy for Canadians to discuss these matters and perhaps something that is healthy for the institution, however, the government cannot support a motion that calls for a referendum when the debate has barely been started. These are early days and Canadians have yet to give any indication that they desire a fundamental change of this kind. Before we talk about process then, it is paramount to undertake a balanced examination of the voting system, including our present first past the post system.

Canada's first past the post system has been a pillar of our institutional framework since pre-Confederation time. The first Parliament, in what is today Canada, was in Nova Scotia and it started in 1758. That is the system under which we started to elect members of Parliament. Our system has provided us with strong national governments that have been able to act decisively, to govern a diverse and very much decentralized country.

I believe the stability provided by our system is key to this debate. In particular, because of the unique characteristics of Canada, I believe it remains the best system for us. Good governance demands the ability to reconcile a tremendous range of differences in a federation: linguistic, regional, cultural and so on. One key problem with proportional representation models, at least with every model I have seen, even the so-called mixed ones that blend elements of both proportional representation and first past the post, is they barely result in a political party winning a majority of the votes.

The hon. member across has told us what he believes are the great values of minority government, presumably with himself and his colleagues holding the balance of power in that minority, and herein lies perhaps some of the motivation. Consequently these systems significantly reduce the likelihood of majority governments at the federal level.

Recent research by the Law Reform Commission of Canada has demonstrated some of this reality. The study found that even with a system that consists of only 20% of proportional representation, majority governments would only occur half as frequently in Canada. Canadians need to know these things before they make decisions.

The authors concluded that with proportional representation, minority governments would become the rule rather than the exception. Is that what we want? Canadians need to know these things. Do we want to create a system that deliberately creates minority governments all the time?

By contrast, in the 36 elections since 1867, using our current voting system, all but eight have brought us majority governments in the House of Commons. Sometimes it has been my party, which I like obviously, sometimes not. Sometimes it is somebody else's party but that is okay. That is a decision of the people of Canada.

Proponents of proportional representation argue that parties would simply form coalitions to govern and this would be just as effective in their view. It really makes one wonder then what the purpose is to go through the exercise if it is to create a new element of what we now call political parties by another name. My colleague, the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, made this point during a speech he delivered at Carleton University last year.

Furthermore, our present system allows for the resolution of sensitive issues with a strong governing party. It does not matter whether they are issues of minority and so on. We have had some of those before us recently. A coalition government could result in divisive issues being aired out publicly on an ongoing basis. It would be very difficult to have the kind of force necessary to govern a country as diverse as ours.

I want to divert a little from some of the material that I have and talk about something the hon. member said. He used the example of New Zealand and somehow drew from that a parallel with Canada.

You and I, Mr. Speaker, come from a eastern of Ontario. The distance from Hawkesbury in my riding to the other side of Kenora near the Manitoba border is the same roughly as the distance between Montreal and Orlando, Florida. Therefore some of us would be represented by members of Parliament who come from as far away as from here to Orlando, Florida. Do we want to advocate a system like that with provinces the size of the ones we have in Canada? I have no idea why one would ever want to have that kind of element.

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10:45 a.m.

NDP

Lorne Nystrom NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

That is in the Senate right now

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10:45 a.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

This has nothing to do with another chamber that is supposed to represent regions. Whether it does adequately is a debate for another time. We are not talking about that. We are talking about the House of Commons of Canada, not another institution. There is no parallel with that in any other country in the world.

The same applies in Quebec. Does a person in Hull want to be represented by someone from Chicoutimi? To put the point much better, does the person from Chicoutimi want to be represented by someone from Montreal who may have never even seen that community? That is the automatic result of a system like this.

The other issue is when we meet constituents, as we often do. When my constituent, Mr. René Berthiaume, introduces me to a relative or a friend he says “Hi, I want you to meet my MP” and he says my name. Regardless of the quantity, whether it is 20%, 30% or 50% it does not matter. MPs are elected only because they are on a party's list. I do not see the democratic value of that. The hon. member is saying to us that this results in more people participating in the electoral process.

This morning I had in my mail a book published by Queen's University about reforming parliamentary democracy, edited by Leslie Seidle and David C. Docherty. The report talks about the New Zealand example and how Professor Jonathan Boston did his work on that example.

I will quote from the report. It states:

As Boston cautions, it's too early to dissect all the ramifications of New Zealand's experiment with electoral reform. Certainly the power that was once enjoyed by a single party in power (and the front bench of the governing party) has been dispersed.

Therefore the only thing that has been achieved is that there ceases to be a majority government. It goes on to state, “Yet, according to Boston, the surge in public confidence that was hoped for has yet to materialize”.

Therefore it did not result in increased voter participation. It did not even do that which is advocated by the hon. member. It is not the great panacea that it is supposed to be.

There is something else. During an election, whether in my riding, in the member opposite's or my colleague's riding, people send us to Ottawa to represent them for all sorts of reasons. Some might vote for me, Don Boudria. Some might think that I should be their MP; that is possible. Others vote for the Liberal Party.

I do not know why people voted for me. Did they vote for Don Boudria or for the Liberal Party? Some vote for the Liberal platform, while others vote for the Prime Minister. All I know is that when it is all added up, I am here in the House of Commons, as is the member opposite and everyone else here. All the votes for all these reasons are all added up.

In his proposal for proportional representation, the hon. member claims—and that is where he is mistaken, in my view—that all the votes for people who are not elected belong to the political party, that no one wanted to vote for the candidate, the platform or the leader and that all these people voted only for the party, at the expense of all other considerations. There is nothing to prove this.

If this is true, it is an insult to the members in this House. Does this mean that each and every one of us was elected based solely on the political party we represented in our ridings and for no other reason? Not a chance.

That is what we are being told. We are being told that all the residual votes are added to a list proportionate to the number of votes per party, and not proportionate to the popularity of the leaders, candidates or anything other than, of course, the parties. These votes belong, therefore, to the parties.

At this level, our constituents sometimes ask a few of us, “How come enough of you did not vote, independently of your colleagues on this bill or whatever, the way we expected you to?” There are all kinds of reasons why this can happen, such as the party platform or because of being a minister, and so on.

Whatever the case may be, these are the kinds of comments we hear from our constituents. The day we no longer have any constituents, how are we to vote against our party, should we decide to do so? What would automatically happen to us, the next time, on that list? Would we be 194th on the list the next time? This is inevitable.

Then the hon. member said that there are only two or three countries in the world, which he named, with a system similar to ours. This is nonsense.

In fact, France had a system based on proportional representation, and it got rid of it. Why? Because people could no longer relate to the members they had elected. France got rid of this system and now elects members to represent ridings. Yes, it is true that there is perhaps a second ballot. However, members are still elected to represent ridings, and not by proportional representation, in France's national assembly. I go two or three times a year, and I am well aware that France has no such system, although it once did.

Australia was mentioned as an example. Once again, this is not true. In Australia's Parliament, or the House of Representatives as it is officially called, members represent ridings only. There may be two ballots, but that is an entirely different debate; it is not proportional representation. Members represent constituents. They do not represent a territory that is 5,000 km long or anything like that. This is not the case in Australia either.

When the hon. member says that Canada, the U.S. and some other country were the only ones—he said that only two or three had the same system as ours—he was suggesting that the others had a proportional representation system.

That cannot even be said of Australia. We travelled to that country. The House leader for his party, who is sitting barely a metre away from him, was there with me to visit Australia's House of Representatives. Of course, Australian senators each represent a region, a state. They are elected based on the size of their states. But that is another debate. We are talking about the other house.

As for the members of the House of Representatives, they represent an electoral division and nothing else. To claim in this House, as the member did earlier, that it is any other way does not reflect the reality.

Some may say that the debate is worthwhile. The hon. member does have the right to bring any issue before the House for debate so that it can be discussed further. That is legitimate, if he thinks this is something that is viable.

I disagree. I think that the system we have is a good one and that it is worth keeping. We can improve our current system in a variety of ways. For instance, in our country, we have a bill before us—it is before the parliamentary committee; as a matter of fact, the meeting is about to start—to ensure that, in the various electoral districts of this country, the redistribution is effected in as near a future as possible. This way, the right of the people to representation by population will be recognized. We want to expedite the process, to change and improve it so that, as Canadians, as citizens of this country, we are better represented in the House of Commons. We want to make that process better. I even made that suggestion in this House a few days ago. But that is another debate.

If the hon. member wishes to talk about creating a system for the other place, let him go ahead. He said something like this, “Listen, as for the proportional system that exists in several countries, with respect to the upper house, we want to close it and include in this house the supplementary parliamentarians who would be elected by the proportional system”. In fact, what he is suggesting, if I understand the system he is proposing today, is that we have senators sitting in the House of Commons. A few moments ago, he gave a reply along those lines to the hon. member for Mississauga South.

These are some examples showing why I think the system he is proposing is not any better. It is not an improvement for our country. Whatever the outcome, proposing a national referendum on the issue in less than a year, when the debate has barely begun, and no evidence has been presented for his contentions, is clearly premature. In my opinion, we should not even think about going down the road to proportional representation. In any case, work is currently being done on reports that will be published later.

There are all kinds of other reforms that could be undertaken. We have implemented some together. As for improving the democratic process, Bill C-24, which we passed recently, proposed one improvement. That was to reduce dependence on large corporations and large unions and have individuals become more involved in the democratic process. That is one way to modernize Canada's Parliament, and this government did it. I must say that some hon. members opposite also voted in favour of these measures, and I thank them.

Bill C-49 proposes electoral redistribution so that we can benefit from what the commissions told us. That is one way to make improvements, and there are others.

But throwing it all out, to replace it with a proportional or semi-proportional hybrid system, or some other, is really going too fast. In any case, we are certainly not prepared to hold a referendum on this within a year or less.

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11 a.m.

NDP

Lorne Nystrom NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the minister, if we were to accept an amendment to remove the dates, would he support the motion before the House today? The minister is concerned about the dates being too rigid. I would certainly accept an amendment that we remove any reference about dates.

I also want to say to the minister that what I said was there were only three countries in the world with more than eight million people that use the pure first past the post system. In Australia there is PR in the Senate. France uses what is called the majoritarian system where there is a first vote and a second vote to make sure every member of parliament represents a majority of the people.

I think what the minister is trying to do is distort what I am saying, that we are one of the few countries in the world to use the pure first past the post system. It is a system that is archaic in the minds of most people right around the world.

Is he not concerned about the fact that we have these fake majorities? We have only had four majority governments elected by the majority of people going way back to 1921. The will of the people is just not represented in the House of Commons. Does that not concern him?

The other point I wanted to make is that in terms of proportional representation there are two principles. We have geographical representation which would remain, but we also need political representation. If there 20% of the people vote for a certain party, they deserve as well 20% of the representation in the House of Commons.

I want to ask the minister whether or not he would support our motion if we deleted any reference to the date of the referendum. Also does he have any concern about the fact that under our system a minority of the people elect the majority of the government, and a majority of the people vote for the opposition? To me that is not the will of the people.

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11 a.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I really disagree with the hon. member when he talks about the fact that he considers majority government to be what he says, a fake majority. That is disrespectful of the system. It is unnecessary and it is not the reality.

No one can tell me that the governments that were led by any leader--whether of my party or the Conservative Party, as those are the only two parties that we have had in the history of this country save and except right at the beginning where the names were a little more ambiguous--constitute anything less than legitimate majority governments.

Canada operates in a system where the government is in power so long as the government enjoys the support of the House of Commons, manifested by a majority of votes in the House. In other words, it is the confidence convention.

A party that has the majority of seats could even have opposition MPs supporting the government. That constitutes a majority. If the hon. member decided with his party to form a coalition with the government, or any other one in the future, perhaps one of another party, that government would be just as legitimate constitutionally.

The point I am making is that there is no such thing as a fake majority in the House. That majority is established. The hon. member will know it as well as I do. He is one of the few people who has been around here longer than I have; actually as a staffer, I think I was here before he was, but not by much, just a little before he was.

In any case, the member knows that at the beginning of the session there is a throne speech. On that throne speech after the second day of debate we have the vote. When the government has been blessed by the confidence vote of that particular exercise, only then are government bills introduced in the House.

The confidence of the majority is established that way. It does not matter whether MPs individually were elected by a small number of votes, or a very large number, which I have been blessed with from time to time I must say.

I do not consider myself more or less legitimate in the House than an MP who was elected in a recount. Once members are sent here we are all the same. All members have the same legitimacy. We all have the right to represent our constituents, whether I was elected with 82% of the votes, which happened to me in 1993, or perhaps one colleague on the other side of the House who was elected in a recount. The legitimacy is the same. Once we take our oath of office and participate in that exercise we are the same in that regard.

Everyone considers us the same and that is only rightfully so. I will draw the analogy of hockey, as we sometimes do around here, and Mr. Speaker, I know you are familiar with that. Whether the playoffs are won with consecutive games or whether they are won with a tiebreaker on the last game, the winner still gets the Stanley Cup. The Stanley Cup here is our representing our constituents in the House. For members individually and collectively it is the same with the confidence that is established. Therefore, I cannot agree with the member's proposition.

Finally, to have a referendum at any time before we have even explored these options, which he is advocating and I do not even agree with, is premature, even to say that we will not have a referendum let alone the date.

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11:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ted White Canadian Alliance North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, the minister has made his own opinion abundantly clear to the House, but why is he so opposed to letting his constituents air their views?

Is it because he thinks that he is more intelligent and he is wiser than they are and there is no way they can think for themselves about such an important subject? Is it because he thinks they would actually disagree with him and that he has to prevent that from happening at any cost, even if it means suppressing their right to a public debate about this issue?

Does he doubt his own ability in an open public forum to convince his constituents that he is correct? If he does not, why will he not agree with the idea of letting them speak? Why will he not give the rest of us, who he has just said are equal to him, an opportunity also to have that public debate and try to convince our constituents to agree with us?

I would like the minister to stand up and look into one of the cameras here and tell his constituents exactly what he thinks of them and why he will not allow them to have their say on this issue.

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11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will speak to the Chair and not to the camera.

My constituents know why I was sent here. I was sent here to represent them. I make no apology to represent them. I have asked for their permission to represent them. They decided that is what they wanted and they sent me here to do just that.

That short but concise diatribe does not contribute much to the debate on the other side. More fundamentally, the hon. member is asking, are my constituents not entitled to express their views. Of course they are. Our constituents send us here. This is a democratic exercise. We do not apologize for the fact that we are elected democratically.

To get back to the other point that he raised, I reiterate what I said. I make no distinction between colleagues based on the size of their majority. For 90% of them I would not even know what it was.

Does the hon. member think that when we have a meeting here or when we vote we say that member so and so has no right to stand because his or her majority was too small? It never comes up and if it did, Mr. Speaker, you would call us to order. That would be ridiculous.

All of us have the duty to consider the others in this chamber to be as equal as we are. Otherwise it would be translated in my view as saying their constituents are not equal. Their constituents sent them here to represent them in the House.

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11:10 a.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am concerned that the government House leader has suggested that the discussion on this issue has only just begun and that it would be premature for us to put the idea of having a referendum within a year before the House.

My question for the government House leader is, where has he been? In the time that I have been in the House, since 1997, we have had a couple of private member's motions by the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle. We have had several debates and lots of discussion. Furthermore the minister will know that this matter was discussed when Trudeau was the prime minister and subsequently it has been raised in parliamentary circles. In fact it is an area where the Canadian people seem to be way ahead of the Liberal government.

Where has the minister been? Does he not recognize that it is time now to determine the pulse of the Canadian people on this important issue?

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11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, in response to the first question of where I have been, I have been in the House of Commons of Canada representing the electors of Glengarry—Prescott—Russell.

The hon. member asked why we are not agreeing with her because this is her position. If the hon. member has the right to have her opinion, we have a right to have ours.

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11:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ted White Canadian Alliance North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, it was clear from the minister's speech and his answers to the questions that his interpretation of representation for his constituents is actually representation for himself. He asks their permission to come here and then he does what he likes. To some of us that is offensive but I guess that is the way he operates. However to many of us that is not democracy and that is not democratic.

I would like to make further comments on some of the interventions made during the minister's speech when he said, for example, that he believes we already have the best system for this country, so he will not allow the people of Canada to let him know whether or not they agree with his opinion and that because he thinks it is too diverse and there are too many opinions here, he would not allow anybody else to contradict him. That is a very sad attitude.

Talk about Animal Farm, where some of the animals are more equal than others, that is exactly what we are hearing. The more equal animals, who sit on the front bench there, are making sure the other animals do not have any input at all into the way the government is running.

The minister's entire approach is based on, frankly, suppressing and burying public opinion in order that a program of social engineering can be carried out over there. It is like treating their constituents like mushrooms: keep them in the dark and feed them on that stuff that starts with B and ends with T.

The fact is that the minister's entire attitude is one of arrogance and superiority, where he decides what is best and then to hell, excuse my language, with the consequences. He will just impose his opinion on everyone else.

I think the real reason for his opposition is that a system of proportional representation would dramatically change the representation in the House, which was already mentioned by the sponsor of the motion today. The fact is, for example, in the last election here in Ontario, more than 1.1 million votes were cast for the Canadian Alliance. If there had been a system of proportional representation in place, for that 25% of the votes cast in Ontario, 25% of the seats would have been for the Canadian Alliance. What a difference that would have made. The Liberals would not be able to stand there and say that the Canadian Alliance is a regional party or give the impression that it is when it is not. We had healthy representation in this province and we could have had 25% of the seats here if every one of our votes had been properly represented.

Turning to the motion itself, I would like to start out by reminding the House that we debated a very similar motion to the one now before us during private members' business in May 2000. That motion was also sponsored by the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle. I congratulated him at the time for having pretty much copied Canadian Alliance policy in terms of his suggested approach.

In fact, his party's policy has evolved somewhat over the years with respect to the issue, changing from being one of imposing a top down decision on the people of Canada that there should be proportional representation, to accepting the Canadian Alliance approach that we should give the people of Canada a say in this possible change to the electoral system.

The evolution of the NDP's policy has brought its position much closer to that of the Canadian Alliance model but there are still some small and very important differences when we compare our system with the NDP model.

Our suggested process would involve two referendums rather than one, with the first asking whether or not the people of Canada want a change. In that respect, it is the same as the NDP proposal. However we would then have a one year to eighteen month period of time when Elections Canada would take on the job of educating the people of Canada about the various options that would be available, because proportional representation comes in many different forms. Only by making the people aware of their options would we be able to go into our second referendum at the end of 12 or 18 months to choose the system that would replace this or to reintroduce first past the post. That was the process that was used in New Zealand.

I do not think we should assume automatically that we would have the same outcome here because, if the minister is correct, with a very large and diverse country like this, quite different from New Zealand, when we get into the public discussion, in which he has no confidence, we would probably find that people had some different ideas about how the proportionality should work and we could end up with a totally different choice at the end of that second referendum.

However it must be obvious to any neutral observer that anyone who opposes the right of taxpayers and voters to use referendums to take part in the decision making of government between elections--and I place Liberals in this category--typically argue without providing a scrap of evidence that referendums are divisive, when nothing could be more divisive than having a government with 100% of the power barely holding 40% of the popular vote. What is more divisive than when there is not proper representation in this place for the votes that were cast in the last election?

We only have to compare that to the use of referendums where we get a healthy public debate about an issue. Usually the emotions are very strong because the subjects are often controversial but at the end of the day there is a democratic vote and everybody accepts the outcome. Even the people who lose, generally speaking, will accept that democracy has overruled them for this time. It is a healthy exercise.

Plenty of countries allow that sort of process to occur. Switzerland obviously is the country that uses this tool the most. We do not see any wars or uprisings in Switzerland despite its multicultural and complex nature because referenda actually assist the public to air grievances, to hear other points of view and, in the end, to make the right decision for everybody.

Having a referendum would be a good way to approach this. It would overcome the so-called problems the minister has tried to invent where the diverse nature of this country would prevent us from choosing anything better than first past the post.

However the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle has already discovered that it is highly unlikely that the government today will support his motion. Once the minister has spoken, of course, everyone over there will fall into line and there is probably no hope at all that the vote will be in favour of this motion tonight.

I also would bring to the attention of the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle the fact that I cannot think of a single example anywhere where there has been a major change to the electoral system of a country without some sort of crisis, usually a financial, fiscal or political crisis.

New Zealand is an example the member has used and likes to use. The change to the electoral system only happened after a fiscal crisis, near bankruptcy of the country, which resulted in a huge reorganization of the government. That was what led to the two referenda culminating in the introduction of MMP, mixed member proportional, in New Zealand.

I might add that it was also the catalyst for the rejection of Socialist policies in New Zealand and an aggressive switch to a free market economy. Perhaps still more distressing for the NDP would be that it was a left wing government, the Labour Party in New Zealand, that actually introduced the sweeping changes to the market system in New Zealand. It was also the Labour Party that eliminated compulsory unionism and allowed workers to bargain directly with their employers for their wages in every industry, even those regulated by unions.

Unions in New Zealand now have to advertise for members and convince people that it is worth joining the union. When I was there last Christmas, I heard advertisements on radio from one union advertising a free toaster and free cable TV hook-up to try to entice members to join the union. What a healthy thing to happen. Unions are being put in the same category as any other business venture, charity or special interest. They have to convince the people that they are doing something worthwhile, that there is a value in joining them, instead of just having a compulsory extraction from the wages of a worker passed on to a union with no accountability. In New Zealand now the unions have to pay bold attention to the real needs of the members.

In terms of the topic under discussion, the only thing I can think of in recent times, which here in Canada would have constituted a crisis big enough to cause some sort of change in our electoral system, would be the cliff-hanger Quebec separation vote we had a few years ago. Had that vote succeeded it would have caused such an upheaval in our electoral system that even the Liberals would have had to face the reality that an overhaul of the electoral system was necessary. There would have been a very high probability of change at that time.

Thanks to the efforts of the official opposition pushing the government in directions it did not want to go, I think that crisis has been eliminated, at least for a while. We now have a much better business environment in Canada and even some lower taxes despite increases in fees in other areas. We probably will not have an opportunity for a major change to the electoral system in the near future.

As I said earlier, the motion before us today is similar to the Canadian Alliance policy except that we would allow all stages of the process to be controlled by the public. Instead of a committee of the House or some other committee being set up to determine which would be the best voting system, we would put that task to Elections Canada to educate the people of Canada about their options and then let them decide the system they wanted for their country. After all, it is their country. They are the people who pay our salaries and the salary of the minister over there who thinks he is here to represent himself.

Surely the people of Canada, whether we think they are right or wrong when they make their final decisions, have the right, because they pay the bills, to have a country formed in the image they desire. Surely they have the right to determine how they want their country run. This would be a great opportunity for them to tell us how we should be running this place.

The reason we, in the former Reform Party and now the Canadian Alliance, reached our position on how to approach this whole issue was that at our policy conventions in past years people have always come forward with suggestions that we should promote a specific policy on proportional representation. The problem is that because there are so many different methods, people get very wedded and set on a particular system. It was difficult to have a debate in the convention atmosphere and actually make a decision about the kind of system we should take as policy.

We set about setting up a task force to study the issue within our party. We called all the people with different views before that task force. In the end, we decided that the best process was the one that was used in New Zealand where the people actually wanted the system changed. Maybe the minister is right, maybe people do not want it changed, in which case we finish the exercise, but if the people of Canada were to decide in a referendum that they wanted the system changed, then the next step would be to allow all the people who think they have the best system to promote that system in a widespread public discussion with the assistance of Elections Canada, and then we would see what the people of Canada would choose. Of course, first past the post would still be on the ballot at that time.

I must say that I am a bit troubled by the NDP proposal to have a committee actually decide which system would be more appropriate. What is the motivation for taking away the decision making ability of the public in this respect? Surely true believers in a democracy would trust the people to choose their own system to replace first past the post.

On balance, we can probably support the motion because if there is openness at that committee, we could probably convince it to create a situation where it could put its decisions out to the people in a second referendum. The opportunity is still available even with the type of motion before us today.

While I have time I should mention an interesting spinoff effect of what happened in New Zealand. The voters in New Zealand chose a mixed member proportional system where the House is divided in two. Half the members are elected using a first past the post system and the other half are selected from a list based on the proportion of the vote received by each party. The parties have to get 5% of the vote in order to get any members in the house. In the last two elections in New Zealand there were 30 or more parties on the ballot but only four or five managed to get 5% of the vote and actually become members in the house.

The interesting sidebar spinoff that I was going to mention is that with mixed member proportional representation some of the members of that house do not actually represent ridings because they are selected from a list provided by the party. As a result, the standing orders in the house in New Zealand had to be changed to refer to members by their names rather than their ridings.

It really begs the question why we have to refer to one another by our ridings, as I did earlier with the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle. There was no good reason to retain that rule in New Zealand, so it was scrapped. Everybody there calls other members directly by their names. I often have wondered why we need to persist with the archaic rule here.

Let me give a brief description of some of the options that New Zealanders had on the ballot.

Straight proportional is where everyone is elected based on a proportional percentage of the vote.

Then there is the supplementary member system, which is quite complex, under which most of the members, perhaps about four-fifths, are still elected on the first past the post and one-fifth, maybe one-quarter, of the total would be elected based on a proportion of the overall share of the votes.

It can be a very complicated system in terms of allocating the votes to the parties because how do they decide who will get on the list of members and who will be on the proportional list or who will have to go before the electorate to be voted in first past the post. It could be a party list selected by party leaders. It could be a party list selected by the members of the party. It could be some sort of public selection process. There are numerous ways of doing that and it really becomes very complicated indeed.

Under the supplementary member system, usually there is a very small representation from smaller parties, so they still tend to get larger, dominant party structures in those types of governments.

Then there is preferential voting, which is not truly proportional but ensures that winning candidates get more than 50% of the vote.

The minister talked about the high percentage that he got and how he felt he was equal to somebody who maybe got 38% and won the seat in a first past the post.

Preferential voting would allow the voter to mark a first choice, second choice and third choice on the ballot. When all the votes are counted, if the first choice on the ballot does not get more than 50%, all the second choice ballots are counted and added to the totals of the candidates. Then, if somebody got 50% of the vote, that candidate wins.

I guess that gives some sort of certainty for voters that if they do not get their first choice, at least they get their second choice, in most cases, because usually by the second counting of the ballot someone has more than 50% of the vote.

Another system that is pretty complicated is the single transferable vote system. It is similar to preferential voting but it involves having numbers of members representing one riding. It could be anything form three to seven members in one riding. Therefore the ridings are much larger but they often give a representation of different parties in the one riding. For those constituents who feel a little uncomfortable perhaps dealing with a member from one party or the other, they have the option within the same riding to go to some other member. That system is used in Tasmania.

Then there is mixed member proportional which, I mentioned, was finally chosen in New Zealand. Under that system, it is actually the party brass who have chosen who will be on the list of members.

I guess there is a good argument for having a party chosen list for that group because the party obviously wants the opportunity to ensure that it has skilled people able to come to parliament. I will give an example. My colleague who was here in the first Parliament after 1993, Herb Grubel who was the member for West Vancouver, was an internationally recognized and very accomplished economist. He might for example be put on a party list so that the party would be certain that type of skill would come to the House after an election.

I guess the bottom line here though is whether I would recommend to my colleagues that they support the motion presently before us. I pointed out that one flaw perhaps is the decision on the type of system would be given to a committee. We would prefer the final decision to be made by the people of Canada rather than by a committee.

However, in reading the motion carefully, I get the impression that there might be flexibility for the committee to actually decide that there should be a second referendum and that the people should make the final decision.

Overall there are so many advantages to having this type of exercise, to having this type of discussion, that I am recommending support of this motion.